By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s acting advocate for children and youth says the government is not doing enough to address gaps in support for young people dealing with mental health and substance use challenges.
In her annual report released Thursday, Ainsley Krone assessed how the province has addressed dozens of recommendations her office has made to improve services for children and youth.
She writes that overall compliance remains low, “which adversely affects Manitoba children, youth, young adults and families.”
During a news conference, Krone said her office frequently hears from youth and families about how hard it is to find mental health treatment in a timely manner, with some having to wait up to 14 months to get into a program.
“That’s a really unacceptable length of time in our province for young people who are in crisis and need help now. To have to wait for upwards of a year or more to get the critical support that they need,” she said.
Krone did note the government’s efforts in creating five new youth hubs in the province but said one of the more simple things the province can do is invest larger amounts of money into systems for young people.
Between 2018 and 2020, the advocate’s office made 51 recommendations to provincial departments, including education, justice, families and health.
The report says the government has failed to substantively act on more than half the calls for improvements and only four have been fully brought in.
Krone acknowledged the role the COVID-19 pandemic has played in shifting priorities, especially when it comes to essential health workers, but said Manitoba children cannot wait until the health crisis is over for the government to enact change.
“Young people here in our province continue to wait and in too many cases they are languishing inside a system that is known to be deficient by Manitobans and has been acknowledged as being such by the government of Manitoba.”
She said the province referenced the pandemic as a reason for inaction on at least six of the recommendations.
Manitoba Education has had the highest level of compliance, Krone said. In 2021, the department prioritized resources to address bullying and mental health promotion in schools. Other recommendations that remain outstanding are expected to be completed next year.
Manitoba Health and Seniors Care continues to have the lowest compliance. Krone said the department hasn’t acted to prevent sleep-related infant deaths, which was the subject of a 2020 report, and hasn’t much improved mental health and substance use treatment services.
The report notes the department has said some recommendations relating to the latter are on hold while a national framework is developed.
Minister of Health and Seniors Care Audrey Gordon did not respond to a request for comment.
Krone said the government must prioritize ways to prevent sleep-related infant deaths, strengthen co-ordination across government departments and publicly release and act on reviews of child and youth mental health and substance use treatments.
“Children and youth have a right to services and the Manitoba government, while it conducts reviews and restructures departments, has an uninterrupted obligation to ensure the needs of children and youth are met.”
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.